COVID-19: Peeni Henare wants Auckland border to remain in place until Māori vaccination rates increase

The Associate Health Minister says he wants Auckland's border to remain in place until Māori vaccination rates are higher across the country. 

Māori vaccination rates are lagging behind the rest of the population. Only 57.6 percent have had their first dose compared to 74 percent for Pasifika, 81 percent for European and 96 percent for Asian people. 

Last Month, Peeni Henare said he had reservations about loosening restrictions until the Māori vaccination rate increased. Despite that, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week began loosening restrictions for residents in Tamaki Makaurau. People can now gather with loved ones but only outdoors and with no more than two households at a time. There is also a 10 person limit. Early childhood education has also resumed and people can move around the city for activities such as beach visits, hunting and lawn bowls. 

The restrictions are also set to loosen further in the coming weeks. 

Henare told The AM Show on Thursday he still has some reservations about loosening restrictions and is working to get vaccination rates up. 

"We do have a continued challenge here and I made it clear when Cabinet makes the decisions and as we look towards loosening some of those restrictions, it would have an impact on our communities and that's one of the strong debates that we have as a Cabinet. And I am not the only one who feels that way.

"We've got to make sure that we continue to stamp out COVID-19 - which is why I am in Rotorua today, to ramp up our vaccination numbers."

Henare said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is aware of his concerns and is joining him in Rotorua today to help drive up the Māori vaccination rates. 

"I've got no problems or complaints about our voice being heard both in Cabinet and more broadly in government."

Despite that Henare said he is concerned about restrictions easing further while the Māori vaccination rate is so low. 

"I've made that clear in a number of Cabinet meetings - my reticence towards loosening those border restrictions in Tamaki Makaurau, that's why we still see them there today. "

Henare said he does support loosening restrictions but wants to see the border remain in place until more Māori people are vaccinated. 

"I have been supportive of the way we step out of the lockdown at alert level 3. I hear it from the community that they want to be able to engage with whanau, they want to be able to get out and see a little bit more of Tamaki Makaurau and our challenge was to strike the balance of allowing those kinds of liberties while continuing to keep our border… and I think we have achieved that."

Waipareira Trust Clinical Lead Ngaire Harris is working on the frontline trying to increase Māori vaccinations. 

She told The AM Show on Thursday they are taking a Whanau Ora approach. 

"So it's going to be a part of our life, this whole Delta, so we have to move from priority of vaccination rates and all that for Māori to it's a part of our life."

Harris said the Whanau Ora approach means focussing on the whole whanau and ensuring they have access to everything they need to get the vaccine including kai, transport and housing. 

"When we go in we don't just talk about the vaccinations, we talk about the whole whanau."

She said just going on about vaccines will make families switch off. 

On Monday Ardern revealed a roadmap for Auckland to slowly move out of the current COVID-19 restrictions. Step one of that plan came into place at 11:59pm on Tuesday. Step 2 will see retail stores open their doors, with the usual measures of wearing face masks and keeping up physical distancing. Public facilities such as pools and zoos will also open and the number of people who can meet outdoors will increase to 25. 

Step 3 will see higher risk settings such as hospitality open but there is a limit of 50 people who must be seated and separated.  

Close contact businesses like hairdressers can also open with mask use and physical distancing and gatherings will also be extended to 50 people. 

The Government also signalled schools are set to open on October 18 but a final decision will be made closer to the time. 

The Government intends to move Auckland down steps weekly but a final decision will be made each week.